In 2019, Swedish authorities arrested the former Iranian prison official Hamid Noury after he arrived in the country as a tourist. The arrest was explained as an application of “universal jurisdiction,” a principle that allows perpetrators of the most serious violations of international law to be prosecuted in any country, regardless of the defendant’s nationality and the location of those crimes. Noury officially went on trial in August on charges of war crimes and mass murder, but the verdict and sentencing are not expected until April.
Noury was in charge of personnel at Gohardasht Prison during the summer of 1988 when regime authorities implemented a fatwa by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, which led to the mass execution of 30,000 political prisoners. In his position, Noury played a direct role in some of those killings, as well as in the underlying torture and interrogation of political prisoners. Around 90 percent of the victims of the 1988 massacre were members or supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, and any affiliation with the MEK was deemed sufficient grounds for summary execution.
Witnesses in Noury’s trial described him as having effectively confirmed this himself, telling them at the time, “If we wanted to carry out [Khomeini’s] order, we would have to kill half the population.” Noury reportedly used this as an explanation for why some of the inmates in the Gohardasht political wards remained alive after the most severe wave of executions, but also exerted pressure on them over their apparently narrow escape from the gallows.
Ahmad Ebrahimi, a witness who served 10 years as a political prisoner beginning in 1981, further quoted Noury as saying, “If any of you makes a mistake, then we will execute all of you.”
Another witness, Akbar Bandali, testified that Noury had been in direct command of prisoners who systematically beat prisoners, both as a tool of interrogation and simply as a means of extrajudicial punishment. Bandali recalled that on one occasion he revealed a knee injury, only for Noury himself to strike Bandali repeatedly on the affected area and use it as a tactic of personalized torture.
Many survivors of the 1988 massacre have reported that the regime was planning the killings well in advance, and this has led to speculation that torturous interrogations in the preceding months were specifically aimed at identifying persons who would be executed in groups in the wake of the fatwa.
According to Bandali, this practice became prevalent after a “second wave” of executions in the summer of 1988. But as he and other survivors emphasized, by that time, countless executions had already been carried out solely on the basis of very brief interrogations before a “death commission.” The testimony in Stockholm affirms that these “trials” often lasted less than three minutes and consisted of just one question regarding the defendant’s views of the MEK.
The death commission that oversaw Evin and Gohardasht Prisons, was comprised of four officials. Among them was Ebrahim Raisi, who would go on, in August 2021, to be inaugurated as president of the regime. His appointment to that position was greeted with outcry by Iranians and human rights activists throughout the world, with Amnesty International calling it a “grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran” and lamenting the fact that Raisi had not been investigated for crimes against humanity.
That sentiment has lingered over virtually every session in Hamid Noury’s trial so far. The families of victims of the 1988 massacre have been holding demonstrations outside of the Stockholm courthouse to bring additional attention to the proceedings inside and also to reiterate calls for an international investigation leading to broader accountability for perpetrators of the massacre.
Just ahead of Wednesday’s session, survivors and families of victims in the United Kingdom contributed to a formal call for Raisi’s arrest in the event that he travels to Scotland for the COP26 climate change conference in November. The National Council of Resistance of Iran held a press conference on the topic in Glasgow, featuring former Member of the European Parliament Struan Stevenson, who presented Police Scotland with a 111-page dossier detailing the massacre and Raisi’s role.
The press conference pointed to Noury’s ongoing trial in Sweden as a prime example of the application of universal jurisdiction, so as to advocate for the similar use of that principle against Raisi or any of the approximately 70 current and former Iranian officials known to have played a role in the 1988 massacre.